Content creators say they struggle to keep up with their audiences as social media platforms evolve
This story is part of an eight-article editorial series that explores the ramifications of a fragmented social marketplace. More from the series →
As the social media landscapes continue to evolve, with platforms’ ever-shifting focus, the continuing pivot-to-and-from-video, the algorithm and audience changes, social media content creators have been caught in the middle. They say dealing with the constant jostling is time consuming and difficult to manage.
A few years ago, content creators could use only one social media platform to establish their content strategies. But the deluge of social media platforms — and the fragmented marketplace — have made it difficult to keep up with where the audience is going, according to five creators, who say that navigating these headwinds while maintaining a strong presence on each of the platforms they use can be overwhelming.
Cosplayer and content creator Jay “Snarkyjay” Fett launched her Instagram account (which now has 60,000 followers) in 2016, but did not start to take it seriously until 2018. She began reviewing Star Wars on her YouTube channel — a strategy that she has now expanded to include other super hero franchises and brands. When she initially expanded her reviews, people unsubscribed.
“It’s almost like you have to diversify your content on YouTube as early as possible to get your audience into everything that you do so they’re not surprised by what you do later,” said Fett, who noted that she does not take brand deals given her YouTube revenue, which she did not share.
Fett is not alone in adapting to the evolving landscape of social media. Singer Leanna Firestone, Netflix’s “The Circle” star Sammie Cimarelli, TikTok star Taya Miller, YouTube personality Ronny Haze, and direct-to-consumer gut health brand Poppi’s founder Allison Ellsworth all share the same sentiment. To them, the most challenging aspect of content creation is the baseline fear that everything could go away in an instant and that it will be impossible to replicate their success — regardless of the number of views, comments, subscribers and likes.
Audiences and diversifying content
Despite using Twitter and Instagram for her personal content, Firestone said her TikTok page, which is music-focused and has over 700,000 followers, is her most successful, though she also said the platform gives her anxiety. “A lot of my problems with that are because how a video does on TikTok influences the way that I feel about myself,” said Firestone. “Because I’ve had such successes on it that whenever you post a video that you think is going to do really well and it doesn’t, it kind of makes you wonder what you did wrong and what could be wrong with you for that video to not do well.”
Content creators say there’s a push to have content on every single platform, to meet their followers where they are spending their time, and to potentially gain new ones on legacy apps and new and emerging ones such as BeReal and Hive. But not every platform has the algorithm that will put you in your audience niche every time.
According to Cassie Petrey, CEO and founder of Crowd Surf, a social media marketing firm and management firm for music artists, she believes that the data and advertising tools have improved over time. “A result of that extreme targeting is that you have more sort of niche cultures and groups than ever before, or at least we have the ability to recognize and target those people,” said Petrey.
Ronny Haze started his YouTube channel, Make a Path Presents which now has 112,000 subscribers, in 2015 as he was covering “The Walking Dead.” (Editor’s note: Haze and this Digiday reporter consider themselves friendly acquaintances.) He opened a Facebook group page (now with 2,000 members) a few years later to discuss the show and just recently created a Discord channel. Haze does not monetize his Discord and Facebook pages.
Haze currently reviews movies on his YouTube channel and said that creators should deal with shifting social media platforms with a two-pronged approach: the first considering how content fits with the strengths and structure of a platform, what its limits are and how content is consumed there; the second is a platform’s popularity.
“You individually might not have any interest in a certain platform, but if it is bursting in popularity among a desired demographic, then don’t underestimate how useful it may be,” said Haze.
Cimarelli said her following grew exponentially after “The Circle” premiered on Netflix, (to over one million followers on Instagram months after the first season premiered). However, her content strategy changed once she became a parent in 2022 to follow her everyday life. She regularly publishes on YouTube and TikTok, too. When she changed her focus, she said she lost male followers.
“I feel like they expect to come to my page and see OnlyFans-like content and then when they come to my page and see me smiling with my son and my dogs and my cat, they are like, ‘This is not what I expected,'” said Cimarelli, who added that each platform has a different audience dynamic, which contributes to this.
TikTok star Taya Miller (4.8 million followers) deals with similar audience expectations but realized she needed to be true to herself. “I would always cater to certain audiences and then that thing just clicked in me where I was like, I’m a creative I don’t want to just fall into doing what everyone expects me to do,” said Miller. “And I don’t think it’s fair to my audience either, because then they’re not seeing the genuine me.”
As for Cimarelli, she said she sees Instagram as her business account and her TikTok and YouTube accounts as her personal accounts. Just like Firestone and Miller, Cimarelli also said she wants to stay true to her authentic content when considering working with brands.
“For me, when a company has too many stipulations on what music I should use, how I need to do this, what I should wear, how I should say certain things, it’s not natural anymore, and it therefore makes me not want to do it,” said Cimarelli.
Constant Instagram algorithm changes
While the various platforms update their algorithms regularly, creators say dealing with the constant shifts from Instagram can be particularly troublesome. According to Hootsuite, Instagram updated its algorithm in July 2022 in such a way that each part of the app uses a different algorithm. Therefore, the algorithms on its Feed, Explore and Reels pages are different from one another.
This is due to the fact that users interact with different parts of the app in different ways. Typically, for example, people go to the Explore page to discover fresh content, not Stories from their closest friends.
Ellsworth said that she does not stress about Instagram’s changes, as her content strategy is constantly evolving. “You just kind of have to watch what’s not performing almost shift on a daily to weekly basis,” she said, adding that Instagram was pushing its Reels feature to compete with TikTok, as previously reported on Digiday, but may be moving away from that strategy.
The inconsistent algorithms could affect Instagram’s working relationships with creators, said Courtney Bagby, CEO and founder of Little Red Management, a branding and social media partnership agency.
“It’s extremely hard to figure out what niche to focus on because one post can appear in so many feeds that it can get lost in the shuffle,” said Bagby.
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